Monday, December 31, 2012

Trini Christmas is de best!

Pastelles are a very Trini Christmas dish. They are savory cornmeal dough rectangles, filled with a seasoned mixture of ground meat, olives, capers and raisins. There are beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian pastelles (usually made with ground soya). Delicious by itself or on a plate with some Christmas ham and hot chow! When you visit during the Christmas season, and your host feeds you pastelles, well...that's just a bess Christmas lime!

A couple years ago on a visit home, I bought my own pastelle press to bring back to South Florida with me. Like many Trinis, I grew up making pastelles with my Mom and Granny, and making them today brings back fond memories of long hours standing in the kitchen, using all the strength in our little arms to press down the lever, and sneaking spoonfuls of the yummy filling while Mom wasn't watching. Pastelles are typically wrapped in banana leaves, which we would ask a neighbor or family friend for since we didn't have any banana trees in our yard. A day or so before making, we would take a large sharp knife and choose the biggest and best banana leaves off their tree to cut. At home we would wipe them clean, "burn" them on the gas flame stove (to make them more pliable), then cut them into squares with scissors. The cornmeal dough was always mixed by hand back in those days, but now I have thankfully discovered that I can use my Kitchen Aid with the dough hook to mix it, reducing some production time and energy. 

So below I share my recipe, of course make the filling to your tastes and preference, some like it very spicy, some not at all. I find frozen banana leaves (Goya brand) in my local grocery store, but if you can't you can use aluminum foil to wrap them. You lose a little of the flavor and a lot of the beautiful presentation with foil, but at least you have an alternative!



Cut 36 pieces of twine, each about 2 feet long.

Two packs of the Goya leaves: Prepare banana leaves by first thawing, wiping clean, then cutting into 36 pieces (about 12 inches x 12 inches). Use a little vegetable oil to grease one side of each leaf.


Cut 36 pieces of foil. Use a Use a little vegetable oil to grease each piece of foil. (No twine necessary with foil.)


5 lbs ground chicken or ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 head of garlic, minced
1 bunch parsley, chopped
3 green onions or scallions, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
4 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup sliced green olives stuffed with pimentos
4 oz capers, drained
1 1/2 cups raisins
salt and black pepper, to taste
6 tbsp hot chow, optional
hot sauce, to taste, optional

1. Season meat with onion, garlic, parsley, green onion and thyme.
2. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add meat and cook until browned.
3. Stir in olives, capers and raisins, and let cook for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add hot chow and pepper sauce if desired.


5 cups yellow cornmeal (I suggest P.A.N. brand or Promasa)
1 cup butter
3 tsp salt
2 tbsp white sugar
5 cups hot water
5 tbsp vegetable oil, plus about 1/2 cup more for the leaves

1. In a food processor, combine cornmeal, butter, salt and sugar for about two minutes. Add 4 cups of the hot water and the 5 tbsp oil. Let mix to make a soft dough. If needed, add a little more water. 

2. Divide the dough into 36 balls. Cover with a damp cloth to prevent from drying. Using the pastelle press or tortilla press, place a ball of dough between two greased banana leaves. Press down to flatten until very thin. Open press, remove top leaf, and place three tablespoonfuls of the filling onto the middle of the dough. Carefully bend sides of leaf inwards so dough can "fold", then fold the leaf around the pastelle. Tie. Repeat.

If using a rolling pin, roll dough out between leaves until thin.

3. Steam (using a colander or steamer basket in a large pot) for about 35 minutes over medium-low to medium heat.

4. Pastelles can be frozen unsteamed for months, and when you are ready to eat them, just pull them out of the freezer and steam. Serve immediately.

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